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Corporate India Scouts for Foreign Employees


For decades, Indians have gone to Western countries like the United States in search of better job opportunities. Now, there is a small reverse tide of foreign nationals being lured to India by rapidly expanding local companies.

David Craig was a final-year graduate student at the University of Arizona in the United States when India's second largest information technology company, Infosys, came to recruit at his campus.

Craig had never heard of Infosys, or ever thought of moving to India. But he became curious after his university advisor told him the company had an excellent track record. After some research, Craig applied for a position, and is now residing at the company's state-of-the-art training center in the south Indian town of Mysore.

"I said this is a great opportunity to travel to India, there is a world-renowned training program they have here in India, and it was mostly the experience on the resume that you have traveled to another country, worked for an international company," he said.

Craig is not alone. He is one of 126 American graduates hired by Infosys this year from universities across the United States. And Infosys is one of many Indian companies recruiting foreigners. Indian employers are offering a broad range of jobs, from executives who can provide specialized skills, to low-level young people who can answer the telephones in a language other than English.

The trend of Indians seeking work abroad is still very much active. But India's National Association of Software and Services Companies says there are now more than 30,000 foreigners working in India at technology and outsourcing companies, with another 20,000 spread around such industries as hotels and aviation.

Some have come in search of a new experience, others because a stint in India will look good on their resumes. Yet others, such as airline pilots, are attracted by remuneration that is better than the pay they could expect back home.

Infosys, headquartered in Bangalore, is one of the world's largest information technology consulting and services companies, with more than 60,000 employees worldwide. The company says it plans to recruit hundreds more students from undergraduate and business schools in the United States and Britain during the coming year. After a six-month training program, they will work for a time in India, and then have the chance to be posted to one of the company's offices abroad.

This rising demand for expatriate workers is largely the result of India's emergence as a global business powerhouse. Over the past two decades, as economic reforms have taken effect, Indian companies have spread overseas, particularly technology businesses. These companies need the cultural perspective, international education and language skills of workers from different countries.

Another, smaller part of the demand for foreigners is the result of the more recent domestic economic boom. There is a growing middle-class, Indians are traveling more, and India's airlines, for example, have hired 350 foreign pilots over the past several years to fly their growing fleets. But most of the foreign hiring is being done by companies with a global customer base.

The head of human resources at Infosys, Mohandas Pai, says such recruitment is aimed at giving the company a diverse workforce that can "better connect with the company's customers," most of whom are in the U.S. and Britain. He says the trend of hiring foreigners can be seen across a range of Indian industries.

"Bangalore itself has 10,000 expats working in the IT industry itself. And we are seeing a growing trend of Indian companies picking up people from the U.S., U.K., Europe and getting them to India to work in their businesses here across manufacturing, textiles, the gem and jewelry industry, airlines - it is a very great move," he said.

The massive outsourcing industry, which provides overseas clients with the likes of administrative work and telephone services, has hundreds of young foreign employees on its payroll, some doing nothing more specialized than answering telephones in their native languages. This has been fueled by the industry expanding its traditional customer base from the U.S. and Britain to European countries where English is not the primary language.

About 20 foreigners work at Tecnovate eSolutions, a Delhi arm of a London online travel agency. They come from Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, and France. Foreigners like these don't bring executive-level expertise, and don't receive executive-level pay, but the company's human resources head, Vineet Panchhi, says their familiarity with the culture and language of countries where tourist clients are based is an asset.

"The advantage we also get is that these guys are available to serve niche markets of certain languages, which are not taught well in India, or are very rarely available," said Panchhi. "And a lot of these foreigners are now ready to move to India, and India isn't such a third world country any more in the minds of people who come from either Europe or America."

Kris Lakshmikanth runs a recruitment company, Headhunters India. He says as corporate India acquires a higher profile, the number of queries his firm receives from professionals at the junior- and middle management-level based in the United States or U.K. has increased dramatically. He says Indian companies are now willing to offer globally competitive salaries, and an India stint is regarded as desirable.

"If you work in India for a couple of years, it helps your career, whether you are in Wall Street or technology companies," he noted.

For many of the young foreigners who take the plunge, India is an experience they appear to enjoy.

Katrina Anderson has come from the United States to train with Infosys after graduating from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. She says the state-of-the-art company campus where the trainees stay is a complete contrast to the small, south Indian town of Mysore, where the campus is located.

"I expected to see a lot more poverty, and there is a lot more music and hustling and bustling and not so much pollution, so we really have a small-town way of life here, which is really charming," commented Anderson.

Indian companies say the diversity that is provided by their foreign employees will be immensely useful as they seek to expand operations into new countries.